Thursday, June 26, 2008

By What Measures Is a Picture Considered "Good"? Open Thread

Long-time readers know that the issue of whether something is "art" or not is wholly separate from whether it's "good" art or "bad" art to me. But lately I've been readjusting my thinking on the criteria by which we collectively (if not unanimously) declare a work of art "good."

In today's New York Times, there's an article about a contested "Warhol" painting, titled "315 Johns":

John (yes, that's why it's called "315 Johns") Chamberlain claims it's authentic, but he has $3 million at stake over that assertion, having sold it for that much in 2000. Gerard Malanga, a former Warhol assistant (who the Times says "helped create many of the most famous silk-screen paintings"), claims he and a friend made the piece with no input whatsoever from Andy. Now it's questionable to my mind that if an assistant who was involved in creating "many of the most famous" works then makes a piece in such a way that it can be mistaken for the work of his or her employer, whether he can then claim no input whatsoever (i.e., it's not clearly a work done in a style one would associate with Malanga...but that's perhaps another thread).

Although the question of whether the piece is worth less than $3 million if Andy didn't know it existed is tangentially related to my topic this morning, I bring this up mostly as an excuse to borrow the language in a quote by Andy that ends the article:
In the murky world of Warhol it’s anybody’s guess whether such information will ever lead to a clear answer. Warhol himself might not have cared much. As he once said — or is said to have said, "My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person."
Which leads me to the first point in rethinking by what measures we determine whether artwork is "good." Not to contradict what Warhol supposedly claimed, but theoretically if a portrait is really "good" it can actually make its subject famous (think Dr. Gachet, Mona Lisa, Dora Maar, Christina Olson, etc.). So my first question is whether "fame" is a valid measure of whether a picture is a good one. I know the standard industry answer to that question. I use it all the time to deflect queries about why I don't like Thomas Kinkade, for example, but in trying to come up with a unifying theory about the measures that lead us to declare art "good," I don't think you can leave "fame" entirely out of it.

This ties in to my second question, which centers on the places all famous art tends to end up: museums. Currently the so-called system moves artwork along from the studio to galleries to collections to museums where it lives happily ever after (with the odd deaccession exceptions). But in reading the essay by Carlos Basualdo titled "The Unstable Institution" (from the collection of essays “What Makes a Great Exhibition?”), I had my thinking on what it means for art to be acquired by a museum somewhat clarified for me. Basualdo argues:
In Western countries, modern art was thought to be structured around the relative balance between a number of institutions founded on a common history or histories, that is to say, on shared values. In this order of things, the tension between production and the market finds a sort of referee in criticism and museums. We could say, very schematically, that the duty of criticism has been to inscribe production into a symbolic field in a way that simultaneously makes it accessible to the effects of the mechanisms of the production of exchange value, while the duty of art history has been to recover the specific differential in the work that hinders its complete subordination to exchange values. Of the two, it was the institution of the museum---which from its origins has had a fundamentally ideological character---that sanctioned the value of the work as exchange value, but not without first disguising it, hiding it in the folds of a particular historical narrative that the museum was supposedly responsible for preserving and intensifying. [emphasis mine]
Indeed, even if one agrees that, for the most part, museum acquisition is a valid measure of quality, it's not possible to separate that out from the fact that museums fundamentally sanction the value of the work as exchange value, leading to my second point in rethinking by what measures we determine whether artwork is "good." Is "exchange value" is a valid measure of whether a picture is a good one?

I know that by now some folks are cracking their knuckles in preparation for typing a blistering retort, but stick with me a moment. The idea "collectively considered 'good'" (i.e., more or less meaning a majority of people agree, as applicable to, oh say, for example Michaelangelo's David) requires collectively recognized criteria. These by definition must be somewhat relative to time and place and therefore artificial. Still, most of us do at least momentarily rethink our opinion of a work of art that sells for millions of dollars (if we're honest about it), no? And don't opinions about quality evolve? Is there some value point at which, even if you loathe a work of art for aesthetic/philosophical/political reasons, that you'd still consider saving it from a burning museum if you were the only one who could do so? At which you recognize the cultural value it holds because it's so expensive?

I like to think, in my more romantic moments, that the only valid measure for whether art is "good" or not is how influential is it with other artists. But even there, I've seen the fact that someone's work is selling like hotcakes impact how much interest it holds for other artists, so the noncommercial purity of that measure is questionable as well.

Left out of this discussion so far, obviously, are questions of how well made an artwork is. That's an issue that gobbles up gigabytes of comments here, but even there we can break that question down. Having been on the receiving end of lectures from conservators (like I made the work??? geesh...), I know that how "well made" an artwork is can be seen in terms of archival issues as well as questions of how pleasing/compelling the lines, shapes, forms, composition, etc., are. Having said that, it should be noted that the latter is probably what most people mean when they step up to assert that a work of art is "good" in their opinion.

But that brings us full circle to the issue of concept. Should I send the "Mona Lisa" off to one of those painting factories in China, they will, as advertised, return a replica so convincing that many of the same people would conclude that this forgery is "good" in terms of how pleasing/compelling its lines, shapes, forms, composition, etc., are. Close inspection might reveal the comparative inferiority of the brushwork, but to the average viewer, using only those criteria, this would seemingly be a "good" painting. So my next question becomes
whether "originality" is a valid measure of whether a picture is a good one.

So far the measures I'm most comfortable with here include influence on other artists, aesthetically compelling/pleasing, and original. But I can see problems within each of those as well and I think it's foolish to pretend the others (e.g, fame, exchange value) are irrelevant.

Consider this an open thread on how [UPDATED FOR CLARITY] we, collectively, conclude an artwork is "good."

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Shifting Gears: Trust the Spiral

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will do my damnedest to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Anonymous wrote:
[F]or the last decade, I've been working in a particular (craft) medium. I've built myself a tidy wee reputation: some direct sales from the studio, plenty of group exhibitions, a few good reviews and (fewer) solo shows in small-potatoes venues; no gallery representation, though there has been some back-and-forthing with a few. Over the last two years, I've grown bored with the medium and am ready to make a change, if only for want of some stimulation and to preserve my sense of integrity---I can't keep doing something I don't absolutely love anymore.

I know the direction I'm (already) moving in, which is quite different. My questions are:

1.)What to do about my portfolio in regards to galleries? Am I starting from zero again, or can I continue to show the old work, or a mix of old and new, as a way of proving that I'm a hard-working lass? How is this switch going to be perceived? Do I need to convince people all over again that I'm a serious artist?

2.)What about the rep. I've already built? I can go to national-level conferences and people know who I am. That's gratifying, much more so than sales. Is it dumb to give that up?

3.)Anyone else out there in blogland in a similar quandry?

I've been reading your blog for quite a while and respect your professional opinion a lot, so don't hold back.
First and foremost I should frame this by noting that to me the biggest advantage to being an artist, over choosing some other career, is you have ultimate control over how it is you spend your time at "work" (meaning of course in your studio). Being free to make the work you want to seems to me the point in many respects.

Secondly, though, this provide an opportunity for me to introduce a metaphor that I think I'll end up using in several contexts on the blog throughout the next year, but which occurred to me initially when discussing this exact topic. Let me see if I can explain this clearly.

Anonymous you note: "I know the direction I'm (already) moving in, which is quite different." In my experience, though, the direction most artists are moving in only seems different for a while. Here's a simplified version of how I imagine most artists' journeys/interests (as opposed to careers) would look if charted:

The spiral is the path I see/hear about repeatedly in studio visits. Obviously there are many more spokes to this spiral, different subjects that reemerge from time to time, points along the path where you adopt the influence or return to a subject (marked with the red asterisks) and others when some idea/subject/concern occurs to you but you press on ignoring it (where the spiral crosses a spoke but there is no asterisk).

I find this image useful, though, when I recognize during a studio visit that an artist has "returned" to an idea or introduced something that might seem entirely new until I see much older work and realize that for many artists they keep returning to the same ideas again and again, only with more insight/experience than the last time. At such junctures, certain ideas might seem to be threatening what you've built perhaps because it's been a while since Subject A was part of your practice/consciousness. You might have dropped it off at one asterisk. But generally it's radiating through your overall practice all the while. If you need it again, you can pick it up and use it.

An artist I showed this diagram to the other day suggested it's actually much more complex than this. Rather than one two-dimensional spiral, each artist's journey is actually a three-dimensional series of multiple interwoven spirals, and the intersections are not always so chronological. I suspect he's right, but the whole point of illustrating this is to note that I don't think dealers (or anyone else) should associate changes in an artist's practice with a lack of seriousness. Not if they're taking a long-term view.

It may not be easy even for the artist, at the point marked "Today," to see how it's all related (and how a drastic change in medium or practice will later be combined with other more thoroughly examined spokes and bring one's audience back round). Personally I think what seem like dramatic shifts are OK so long as the artist has interesting ideas, is rigorous about exploring them, and has a solid studio practice. It will all come together again, and probably be much more interesting for pushing further out along the spiral, rather than sticking in one spot along it.

OK, so that's the theory. What about practice? What if your change in direction does alarm your audience? Then what?

I'm a big fan of concurrent projects. Even if one is selling better than another, I encourage artists I know to keep multiple pots boiling. You never know when one idea/practice will provide a major breakthrough for another or (and this does happen) you'll tap out the market for one series and then a shift will look like a response to that (i.e., be less convincing) rather than a natural continuation of something you had been doing.

What this means in terms of talking about your new direction to those invested in your work is (if you're concerned it might seem a bit flaky) consider introducing it slowly, in conjunction with other work ("Oh, and here's something new I've been working on. What do you think?" rather than "That other stuff? That's the past...this over here...this is my future...the only thing I'm focused on now)". I can't say one way or the other if you should keep making the older work. That's your call. But there's no reason not to have some of it around for studio visits and such. Not only to comfort your audience, but to see if that old love still holds appeal for you when you've learned some new lessons elsewhere.

Should a dealer, curator or other interested professional give you a hard time about the new direction, I would recommend asking them for a bit of faith and patience. Again, they might be comforted by seeing some of your other work about. If you really need the change, don't be daunted if their interest in the new work is lukewarm. But also, if you trusted their opinion once, don't assume it's only commercial interest that's leading them to criticize your new work either. They may simply not like the new work, and that's something you should get their honest opinion about.

Bottom line in all of this, though, is what you said: "[I] am ready to make a change, if only for want of some stimulation and to preserve my sense of integrity---I can't keep doing something I don't absolutely love anymore." There may be commercial consequences to that, of course, at least temporarily, but there are much worse consequences I imagine to ignoring the fact you've reached that stage with certain work. Unless being a factory worker is why you went to art school.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Freeze @ 20 : An Example of Artists Leading, Instead of Moaning

The Young British Artists (YBAs) who ignited a resurgence of contemporary art's relevance and interest among the general public in London are celebrating reaching mid-life with a reunion, according to
Twenty years after Damien Hirst launched the YBAs in an exhibition called "Freeze," the 16 artists who were there are reuniting, reports the Guardian.

"Freeze 20" opens at the Hospital Club next month with 16 works, including two from the original event — Anya Gallaccio's molten lead poured onto the warehouse floor and a drawing by Stephen Park — and several from the time period. Also included are Hirst's first work in formaldehyde, featuring a fish, as well as pieces from Mat Collishaw, Angus Fairhurst, Gary Hume, Abigail Lane, Sarah Lucas, and Fiona Rae.

The entryway to the exhibition will boast an archive of cultural ephemera and newspaper headlines from the late '80s, while the exit will show a 20-year timeline plotting key moments in contemporary art, particularly those involving the participating artists.

Says curator Duncan Cargill: "This exhibition is not just about nostalgia — it's about questioning what the effects of 'Freeze' were."
Their timing is perfect. For me at least. I was wondering how to address the comment Franklin made yesterday about the statement I wrote in yesterday's post. First my statement:
I have repeatedly supported the notion that if artists are not happy with the terms of the system they have every right to change those terms. Implied in that opinion, though, is that the work of changing the terms falls to them.
and Franklin's response:

I fully agree with this. But it's a touch galling - just a touch - to hear it coming from someone on the inside of that system. Let's note a couple of aspects of coming up with one's own terms:

1. That it not only involves coming up with some means of fiscal survival that doesn't compromise the integrity of one's work, but that entire structures have to be generated by any number of like-minded people in order to garner critical recognition. The system as it stands involves galleries, museums, critics, and curators, and the news-making portion of that system reserves serious regard for a far narrower slice of working artists' priorities than they will typically admit to. However inadequate the observation that "art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship," I'll take it over the notion that art is, above all, about ideas and issues, and there's no question about what contemporary museums prefer given a selection of mid- and early-career artists. Cutting a new path that doesn't involve this system is going to require extraordinary endurance and business acumen that most artists by nature don't possess. So while it may be true that the artists who don't like the system have the responsiblity to create their own situation, the choice is between being chained to an oar in the slave's galley or throwing oneself into the open ocean. Thus not all of that bitching is misplaced.

2. That the system is going to kick and scream as alternative terms become successful. For instance, criticism (not just art criticism, but all criticism), in the 20th Century form that we've come to know and occasionally love, is dying. It is moving to a shorter, more populist, worse-paying form on the Web. Hardly any critic regards this as a good thing, but something of a mini-industry of snobbery has sprung up to bemoan the allegedly consequent imminent death of critical thought. (See Lee Siegelpuppet, et alia, who are so sad partly because we all know what's going to happen to them.)

Let me note two preliminary, framing ideas myself to clarify my point of view on this. First, I don't see myself necessarily as any more "inside the system" than many artists who have been exhibiting in commercial galleries for longer than I've owned one. I didn't invent the system. A few hundred years of artists wishing to sell their work has led us to where we are. If there were, readily at hand, better ways for artists to conduct such business, I'm sure we'd have them already. In fact, I'm sure some are on their way even as I write this. The system evolves, more in spurts than steadily, but it does evolve.

Secondly, when I say it's up to artists to change the system it's not because I'm resistant to such changes and neither are the other dealers I respect (in fact, I've incorporated several tweaks to how we run our business based on ideas I've heard from other artist-centric dealers...ideas such as formalizing the split of resale profits with our artists, working out a clear system for when and how it's appropriate to discuss changing the 50/50 split, and more). I say it's up to artists to change the system if, and only if, the way it's currently going doesn't suit them and what they need to have it suit them requires new thinking, new energy, new direction, etc. among the rest of the industry. In other words, I wouldn't presume to know what those things should be. Artists have to tell and then convince the industry where they're heading, with or without the rest of us. Artists have to lead.

Just like the Freeze artists did:
Freeze had an impact, it seems, because not only were the included artists still students but also because of the very way in which the exhibition itself was packaged. There was aura of professionalism generated by the show's large scale and glossy catalogue, itself including an essay by a respected writer, Ian Jeffrey. Resultantly, it was striking because it was the antithesis of the usual student show. Goldsmith's, as a result largely of this exhibition, has been seen as the birth place of the 'Yba' phenomena. Another element to be factored into this construction was the presence of Goldsmith's tutor Michael Craig-Martin, who encouraged and fostered not only the use of a conceptual visual language, but also the importance of selling the artist. Another point to be considered in relation to the emergence of the 'Yba' was the economic climate that surrounded them, with their work first shown on the cusp of the boom and bust of the late 1980's. The result was not only a glut of empty retail spaces in which to display their work, but also a new generation of collectors who made their money in the halcyon days of the late Thatcher years.
So I'm sorry that the industry itself isn't busy inventing some means whereby artists stewing unhappily about it can "com[e] up with some means of fiscal survival that doesn't compromise the integrity of one's work." But that doesn't mean we won't recognize a clear advance when someone forges one. I would offer the same advice, by the way, to a dealer who was unhappy with how some part of the system runs: don't just bellyache, work to change it.

The parts of the system that kick and scream, as opposed to seize the opportunity to support such efforts, will fall by the way side, so who cares if they kick and scream. If you build it, and it's worth noticing, they will come around.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Art Gallery's Being Mean to Me

I'm not much of a film critic. But when I was invited to last night's premiere of a new HBO documentary, I accepted because the subject of the film is one of the main themes we discuss here on the blog: artists-galleries and artists-collectors relationships. Directed by Jeff Stimmel, the documentary focuses on the career of painter Chuck Connelly. Here's how HBO describes it:
The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not for Sale is the unusual story of the rise and fall of a major talent, along with Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat, from the 1980s art world. Though he was extremely talented with a profitable collection of work, Chuck Connelly ended up alienating every collector and gallery owner he worked with. This 63-minute documentary follows the life of this brilliant yet enigmatic painter, who had great success as a young artist but who now sees his career fading. Driven by desperation, and left by his wife during the course of this documentary, Connelly hires an actor to pose as a young, upcoming artist to sell Chuck's work to galleries and art dealers. The film provides an intimate and often troubling character study of Connelly, a working-class guy from Pittsburgh who holds "traditional" beliefs that art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship. These notions have proven to be less-than-fashionable in today's elite art world, the inner workings of which are also glimpsed in the film. Shot over six years, this dramatic and entertaining documentary explores a painter's passion for his work, despite being his own worst enemy.

Describing The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not for Sale, director Jeff Stimmel notes, "This is a simple story of a working-class outsider who is fighting ageism, elitism, and cronyism - in this case within the art world." In the film, Connelly vocally rails against what he sees as profit-hungry tactics of dealers and gallery owners, who buy paintings in bulk to get the greatest return on their investment. With over 3,000 paintings in storage, Connelly could be paid a large sum to clear out his studio and sell his entire collection of artwork. Though this would make him rich, Connelly would never agree to sell in bulk because each individual painting would be priced "dirt cheap."

Interestingly, in 1989 Martin Scorsese was looking for an artist who could be a model for his film, New York Stories: Life Lessons. Several art dealers recommended Connelly. Subsequently, the "wild man artist" played by Nick Nolte was based on Chuck, and all of the artwork shown in the film was Connelly's.

A number of insiders in the art world are interviewed in the film, including the venerable gallery owner Annina Nosei, who launched both Chuck's career and those of Basquiat and Schnabel; the successful 1980s artist Mark Kostabi, who is the very opposite of Chuck; Walter Robinson, editor of ArtNet, who provides astute insights into Connelly's art; Matt Garfield, Chuck's patron, and others.
I actually enjoyed the film. There were plenty of comical moments and food for thought about careers in the art world. But I don't think I can object enough to how this description frames the film for the viewer. I'm gonna try though:
Where to begin?

I guess with the positive stuff. Of all the art world insiders interviewed, the one who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of not confirming some caricature (truly, his description of Connelly's work was lovely) was Walter Robinson. Just about everyone else--perhaps through editing, perhaps through the questions they were asked, or perhaps through their own doing--was portrayed as a one-dimensional character.

Yes, that's the positive stuff. My lingering impressions of what the director did (more what he missed) go down hill a bit from there.

Let's start with this nonsense: "This is a simple story of a working-class outsider who is fighting ageism, elitism, and cronyism - in this case within the art world."
"Working-class outsider"? Really? You mean like Warhol? Or de Kooning? or a thousand other starry-eyed youngsters who come to New York from working-class backgrounds across the country and the world and yet manage to learn how not to be their own worst enemy? The notion that the gallery system is oppressively classist is hogwash. I come from a working-class background, as do most of my friends who own galleries (granted, most of my friends who own galleries began in Williamsburg, but...) as do many of the artists I work with.
The film provides an intimate and often troubling character study of Connelly, a working-class guy from Pittsburgh who holds "traditional" beliefs that art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship. These notions have proven to be less-than-fashionable in today's elite art world, the inner workings of which are also glimpsed in the film.
I actually wish the director had lived up to this last claim. The "glimpse" of the inner workings of the art world is so thin as to be virtually translucent, revealing a bias behind it about how unfair the art world is that could have been easily put aside in the interest of objectivity.

For example, everyone I spoke to after the film was still confused about exactly why the galleries that worked with Connelly stopped working with him. The gallerists interviewed never got a chance to explain that. There's the implication that once Page Six got a hold of Connelly's quote about the Scorsese film (Chuck was quoted, although he was involved in the film, as saying "It sure wasn't
Raging Bull") that his career was instantly over, but no further explanation of why or how that comment ended his career. What "inner workings" exactly were at play there? Most dealers I know could spin such press into buckets of sales. Or would at least try. Why didn't that happen here? We never find out.

I should note that I think Connelly is a very talented painter. Several times I gasped at works shown in the film. But this notion: "that art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship" and $2 will get you a subway ride out to Flushing. In other words, why, if that's all art is about, wouldn't thousands of other artists out there deserve the same success Connelly feels was robbed from him? There are thousands of talented artists who will tell you that personal expression and craftsmanship are central to their work. Does the world have the means to celebrate them all? To make them all rich? Is that, "above all" what the world needs from its artists?

There's a good deal of self-pity in the film. Connelly complains at one point "They tell you to be a rebel and then they tell you to kiss ass," without any sense at all that whoever "they" are, they have no role in telling you to be a "rebel." If you truly are a "rebel" you'll refuse to kiss ass no matter who urges you to do so, which would seem to be what Connelly feels he's doing. Which, admittedly, is admirable. But moments later he says "The art gallery's being mean to me." (I think he was mocking some other artist, but the idea lingers that he too has been abused by the galleries.)

And here's where I think both Connelly and Stimmel miss the point. Chuck insists on playing by his own rules. That's great. But he goes one step further and more or less expects playing by his own rules to handsomely reward him. He admits he spent all the money he made in the 80s, just spent it up, and he wants more to keep coming in while he continues to party ferociously, offend people, screw those trying to help him, etc., etc.

I have repeatedly supported the notion that if artists are not happy with the terms of the system they have every right to change those terms. Implied in that opinion, though, is that the work of changing the terms falls to them. Not to the rest of the world. It's no one else's responsibility to change the system to meet your personal needs or preferences. There's hard work involved in moving the world. If you're not willing to do that work, then live with or work with the way it is. Sitting around bitching that it's not designed to celebrate just you is sophomoric.

I will still highly recommend you check out this film. Again, the comical moments are priceless and the interviews offer plenty of valuable lessons. I do wish HBO wasn't marketing it the way they are, though. Appealing to the public's biases about how elitist the art world is is a cheap route toward attention, IMO.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Invitation Greening Pros and Cons

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will do my damnedest to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Carol wrote:
I’ve begun to hear from galleries (Von Lintel and Team recently) that they will be “saving paper” by replacing the traditional post card exhibition announcement with email. As a critic, I get tons of emails from galleries, many I've not heard of nor been to, and never open any of them. To me, they're not much better than spam. I do, however, look at each and every card I get in the mail—-cards with images, that is. And I often save them for months or even years.

Then as an artist, I’m concerned that once a gallery establishes this as a policy, will it then become an expense that gets passed on to us? And will there be a reliable database available if we do want to send cards?

This is how I go about choosing which galleries I visit: I make a stack of all the announcement cards that look interesting, go through the ads in Art in America and Artforum, then print out the ArtCal list of galleries by neighborhood and address and highlight what I find. I also do research from the ArtCal list as well.

Another thing I appreciate is when galleries include thumbnail images of each piece next to the entry in the checklist. Like announcement cards, they serve as a reference I’m likely to keep for a long time.

As a gallery owner, what are your thoughts?
Perhaps if more galleries understood that sending critics a card with an image played such a big role in getting the critic to come see their exhibition this would become a non-issue (i.e., galleries would just print up cards), but I think there are several interesting issues in Carol's comments/questions, and I'd like to separate them out. (For the record, our gallery does both, printed cards and email announcements...but then I'm a media whore, so....)

First is that most galleries I know end up throwing away thousands of invitations each year because printers generally only offer their services in units of 1000 or 500 at best. If a gallery's mailing list then is 4,200 people, say, and to send that many they have to print up 5000 cards, after the stack of 100 they archive and the 100 or so visitors take away during the exhibition, they still have 600 cards per exhibition that end up being landfill. Multiply that by 8 exhibitions a year and 300 galleries in Chelsea alone and you begin to understand that even if "saving paper" is only a euphemism for "saving money" there is actually a good deal of waste going on (the math tells us perhaps as many as 1,440,000 cards get thrown away each year in Chelsea).

Also, there's definitely a Paperless Nation movement underfoot. Banks, utilities, airlines, newspapers, you name it, everyone is encouraging their customers to use the Internet instead of relying on print. Whether it actually is out of concern for the environment or an easy way for them to save money is probably besides the point. Once businessmen realize they can cut that corner, it will be difficult to get them to turn back.

But ours is a visual industry. We trade in images. I will confess to spending more time with cold-sent print invitations than with cold-sent emails (by cold-sent, I mean someone whose mailing list I didn't sign up for or someone sending me an announcement because they sought me out, rather than the other way around). A card is much easier. An image in an email might be an attachment or take forever to load. With a printed card, I flip it over and voilà! Of course so much depends upon the quality of the image (both in printing and in original creation), but that's another matter.

But Carol wisely thinks through to the future issues that galleries going paperless might consider first: "Then as an artist, I’m concerned that once a gallery establishes this as a policy, will it then become an expense that gets passed on to us?"

I think that would probably be a yes. If an artist wanted printed invites and the gallery's policy was not to produce them, then many a dealer would argue that that falls under the artist's individual promotion efforts. Of course, it could become just another exhibition negotiation, but if the gallery has a set budget per exhibition, getting them to shell out for cards might mean cutting back on something else.

But Carol's second question is more to the point on what galleries should keep in mind, IMHO: "And will there be a reliable database available if we do want to send cards?"

Most likely not. Galleries update their mailing lists when the post office returns a card with an address correction or a client, realizing they've stopped getting them or having moved, contacts the gallery to update the records. If you're known to be emailing announcements only, who would bother to contact you with a change of address? It takes years to build up a quality mailing list. The expense of printing and mailing cards might be a small price to pay to ensure yours is as up-to-date as possible.

Finally, Carol notes:
"Another thing I appreciate is when galleries include thumbnail images of each piece next to the entry in the checklist." I loved that the first time I saw it as well and promptly stole it (we do it for 95% of our exhibitions). I should acknowledge that I first saw that on a checklist from our friend Jeff Gleich's gallery in Paris, g-module. It takes a bit more time to set up, but a lot less than walking a critic writing about the exhibition back through the show on the phone, hoping your explanations are making sense.

Thanks for the question Carol. Others' opinions on the fate of printed announcement cards?


Monday, June 16, 2008

Proud Papa Update

Just a quick note about some upcoming love for our gallery artists from major art institutions:

Joy Garnett is participating in the following group exhibition at PS1, which opens this Sunday!

That Was Then...This Is Now
June 22 through September 22, 2008

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

That Was Then...This Is Now is a joint curatorial adventure timed to coincide with the forty year anniversary of the '68 revolutions. Inspired by the artistic and socio-political climate of the late 1960s, this exhibition brings together an international and intergenerational group of artists working within three iconographic themes: flags, weapons, and dreams. From these points of departure, artists examine political and cultural hopes and their subsequent distortions. Drawing from the communal spirit of the 1960s, all the curatorial advisors will collaborate together on this one exhibition for the first time. That Was Then...This Is Now will be on view in the Second Floor Galleries.

Organized by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss, Senior Curatorial Advisor Neville Wakefield, and Chief Curatorial Advisor Klaus Biesenbach with Curatorial Advisors Andrea Bellini, Phong Bui, Lia Gangitano, Susanne Pfeffer, and Franklin Sirmans.

Carlos Motta is a recipient of the 2008 Latin American and Caribbean Guggenheim Fellowship Award!
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded 35 Fellowships to artists, scholars, and scientists from Latin America and the Caribbean with a total grant allocation of $1,200,000, according to Edward Hirsch, Foundation president. The successful Fellows were chosen from 516 applicants. This year’s new Fellows are from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela.

The Foundation grants Fellowships through two annual competitions: one for citizens and permanent residents of the United States and Canada; the other for citizens and permanent residents of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Fellowships are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.

The 2008 Fellows are a diverse group in their fields of endeavor, geographic location, and age. The new Fellows range in age from the 30-year-old Colombian artist Carlos Motta to the 65-year-old Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez.
And The Chadwicks (aka Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw), whose solo exhibition opens this coming October, will have a video of their wonderful Golden Age Micro Brewery and readings of their homophonic translations of poetry by Jacob Cats presented at the Tate Modern in London:
Gramophones, Films, Typewriters: audio, video and text works curated by Seth Kim-Cohen
Saturday 28 June, 19.00 – 21.00 East Room, Tate Modern

‘Media determine our situation.’ So begins Friedrich Kittler’s highly influential Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Today, twenty-two years later, such determination is even more acute. Media are everywhere. Control of sound, image, language and their dissemination has changed dramatically.

All these media determine the artist’s situation too. Those who work with technological media, suddenly find their world overpopulated. Those who work with traditional media (painting, sculpture, and by now we can surely include photography), must wonder if the jet pack has left the station.

The artists present works that engage the exigencies and allowances of media: flirting with the inchoate, challenging the virtue at the root of both the virtual and the virtuoso, exploiting the transportability of the message while acknowledging its recalcitrance. We collect this multiform work under the collective title Gramophones, Films, Typewriters, but it could just as easily have been Media, Determinations, Situations.

This session includes works by Julian Rosefeldt, Dexter Sinister, Jarrod Fowler, Lytle Shaw and Jimbo Blachly, Seth Kim-Cohen, Richard Mosse, John Lely, Petrova Giberson, and Aliza Shvarts.
Oh, and one more item, "I Dream of the Stans," the gallery exhibition co-curated by Leeza Ahmady, Murat Orozobekov, and myself, featuring new Central Asian Video art is being presented at the Museo de Arte de El Salvador, MARTE in San Salvador. A thousand thanks go to our friend and art world impresario Janet Phelps for arranging for the exhibition and MARTE's Programming Director, Rafael Alas Vásquez, for organizing what we believe is the first time major works by contemporary Central Asian artists are being exhibited in a major Central American museum.

I'm gonna go now before I tear up with pride.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Strategies for When You Can't Remember Someone's Name

We're off to Syracuse tomorrow, for the opening of the 2008 Everson Biennial, which I was honored to be asked to jury and can't wait to see finally installed. If you're in the neighborhood, please come see the exhibition. There is a wide range of media included and some truly wonderful work.

It will be an unusual opening for me, though, in that I have only previously met a few of the 55 artists in the show. I doubt I'll meet them all, but knowing I'd be meeting more than my poor memory banks will be able to store got me to thinking about the strategies I use for remembering peoples' names. Some are worth sharing perhaps, but more than that, perhaps you have helpful hints you're willing to share as well.

Mine first.

Back when I lived in Washington DC, the Congressional candidate whose campaign I worked on explained that in politics you meet so many people you never say "Nice to meet you" when working a crowd. Odds are you'll say that to someone you had previously met, but don't recognize, and they'll feel insulted. Instead, you say "Nice to see you," because that covers both the folks you're meeting for the first time and those you've met before.

I use that phrase in the art world religiously. Because I forget people's names almost chronically. It's not just how many people I meet (although it's partly that), I'm more a visual person, and rarely forget a face (OK, so that's been known to happen, too... more and more the older I get). But to avoid the awkward "I can't recall your name" scenario, I'll lean on terms of endearment in my greetings and discussion: "How are you, darling?" or "Hey Dude, where you been hiding?" All very genuine...all nicely generic...all the while hoping their name will come back to me. I also use terms of endearment with people I hold dear, though, so don't feel offended if I call you "Sweetheart." I mean it...your heart is sweet. ;-)

When Bambino's nearby, he's learned to read my body language and jump in to save me. Or if Bambino's never met the person, he sees my signal, and we do the old cough routine. I introduce the person to Bambino, and it proceeds like this:
"Do you know Bambino?" [but with his real name]

I then have to turn to, er, cough or sneeze, right at the point I should introduce the other person back. The name-unknown person will jump right in and introduce himself. This necessitates not fake coughing or fake sneezing too loudly though, so as to be sure I catch his name too.
But enough of my totally transparent tricks. What's in your satchel? How do you navigate the "I can't recall your name" canals of the art world?


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Impact of the Day Job

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will do my damnedest to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

anonymous registrartist wrote:
I'm an unrepresented artist working in a Chelsea gallery 40 hours a week and doing my studio thing nights and weekends. There are so many of us artworkers/artists, I wonder what the dealers think about us. Is it generally frowned upon when aspiring artists are known to work gallery day jobs?
In re-reading my response, I realize I'm a bit all over the map, and shouldn't offer the following up as my "professional" opinion, but merely an attempt to hypothesize about the speculation and or unspoken anxieties that exist on this topic. In other words, don't quote me on any of this.

I think there can be biases working against you in this. Not insurmountable, and not concentrated in any one dealer, but spread throughout the industry, and there's no point in not talking about them openly, if only to dispel them.

The first bias was expressed by super-dealer Jeffrey Deitch at a panel lecture he participated in about 8 years ago now. I don't want to try to quote what he said because I can't recall the exact wording, but what I took away from his statement (and I'm fairly sure this is accurate) was essentially that he wouldn't even consider working with an artist who held a full-time job. He noted how a fulltime job (outside the studio, that is) implied the artist wasn't serious enough about their artwork.

The second bias possibly working against you is the assumption that you might be too close to the business side of things (i.e., have inside information most artists are not privy to) to work well with a different gallery. This is much more subtle, and most dealers probably wouldn't even recognize it in themselves if challenged on it, but sensing it a bit in myself, I can't believe it's just me.

I don't exactly know what this bias stems from (and it's not a bias as much perhaps as an anxiety), but I'll throw out a few ideas and see how many sound feasible.

Perhaps the underlying anxiety, subtle as it is, stems from many dealers' fear that they're doing so much of their job poorly. There is no manual on how to run your business as a dealer, and trial-and-error is how most of us come to make decisions on the finer points of relationship management and other strategies. This, I can confirm, is felt by more dealers than just me. I've spoken to many other dealers whose self-doubt that they're not working as effectively or efficiently as they can is surprisingly high for people who put on such a brave face in public.

With that self-doubt current being so ubiquitous, learning that one of your competitors does something differently from someone (this artist in question) who was working behind the scenes (as opposed to learning it from an artist who is represented by other galleries, but whom you can safely assume only saw what that other gallery wanted them to see), can contribute to that self-doubt, but that in and of itself isn't the problem (dealers learn from other dealers all the time). Perhaps even more anxiety provoking would be the idea that this artist you've taken on who worked for another gallery might recognize your failure, call you on, gossip about it, etc. etc. and you'll be revealed as the fraud you fear you are. (A bit of projection, perhaps, but again, I've had the same ideas shared with me by other dealers, and not all of them so new to the game.)

These are, again, just guesses about the bias, but I can confirm that it can exist (again, somewhat unconsciously for the most part), which is not to say you shouldn't work for a gallery. You have rent to pay and food to buy, and this bias would be definitely something the dealer just needs to work to get over.

There is a third potential bias at work here as well, but this one is even more difficult to describe, and, to be honest, I'm not so sure it stems from the galleries as much perhaps as it's merely a reflection off the artists working for galleries that the artists think they see in dealers (and perhaps because in the context of working for a gallery, they, as an employee, don't get the same star treatment that they see the dealer showing to his/her artists), but...the notion exists that only an artist with self-doubt about their art would work to support the careers of other artists. Again, I've never felt this myself, but I do sense it among some artists who work as art handlers or assistants or for galleries. And because I sense they feel it, perhaps I reflect it back to them merely by recognizing it.

A dealer's main interest in how you spend your time outside the studio is that you're still able to get into the studio and do the work you need to get done there. It's generally only when you're not able to do so that your dealer will care what you're doing in addition to making your artwork. For those dealers who won't even consider working with you if your day job isn't approved, there's not much you can do except perhaps work to squirrel enough away that you can quit that job before inviting them to your studio. For the rest of the dealers out there, I'd recommend just not bringing it up. And if they do, emphasize that your goal is to be able to be in the studio full time as quickly as possible. You can imply, as well, that with their help you'll be able to do so (but that can backfire, so be careful with that approach).

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Bambino's SEE and BE SEEN: June 6, 2008

With all this hot weather in New York, we had our own very hot opening last night with David Kinast’s “ISM” show (that's David between Courtney J. Martin and Deborah Grant). To everyone who missed the opening, I would highly recommend not missing the show. Here are a few images for this month’s SEE and BE SEEN.

Here’s our dear friend Jonathan O’Neil from Boyd Level and The Drawing Center, who’s also writing on Artworldsalon (always worth the read). Unfortunally Franklin Boyd was not able to come, but she never misses our shows. Jonathan was uncomfortable having his picture taken by paparazzi I guess. But I did it anyways. And by the way did you notice how clear the pictures are? We bought new digital camera 10 Mgz pix.

Sarah Peters was lovely as usual and I asked her to pose in front of her new work (in the office), which I totally love. Anyone who has followed her work, this is an opportunity to own your own Sarah Peters’ work for reasonable price, for now. She is one of the young artist you have to watch.

And of course, from my chosen family, here’s Amanda Church. We always have a great time together. On our last studio visit to see her Porn paintings, we loved them, if you like her work and want to see new work, you must ask her specifically for porn paintings. Or wait till her show in LA.

And here is the star of the night David Kinast, who looked pretty damn good with his summery clothes, with our close friend Courtney Martin, who is beautiful, smart, lovely, and (the list can go on and on). You know when you can talk to someone about everything with respect? She is like that. Can’t wait to travel with her again to the Venice Biennale next year. She is also growing in her professional career as art historian and curator, and she is one of the people in art world to watch.

It was nice to see Julie Evans back from her trip out to the Tamarind Institute. While she was gone, I had very juicy dream about her, but it’s very private. I really wanted her painting from the Momenta Benefit, but someone lucky grabbed before me. And thank you everyone who donated work to Momenta Art and everyone who bought tickets.

My best outfit of the evening would go to Barbara, David Kinast’s fiancée. Very pretty, elegant, perfect color for summer, and a beautiful dress for the opening. We wish them a wonderful great time in Italy and the big event this summer. Congratulations.

I must say, at last night's opening we were so green, people asked for refills, without tossing out their plastic cups. We were so proud that everyone was participated in our Green campaign, and thank you.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

David Kinast @ Winkleman Gallery, June 6 to July 3, 2008

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “The ISM,” our first solo exhibition by New York artist David Kinast. With five new canvases, Kinast presents a gorgeous suite of all-over paintings that feature his signature layering of floral forms inspired by traditional Korean geometric patterns. Sometimes subtle, sometimes invigorating variations in his palettes combine with a mesmerizing rhythm to his mark-making to lend these elegant compositions a hypnotic presence. Sprinkled with passages of crosshatches, scribbles, or errant drips, these paintings have a playful irreverence that balances their minimalist appearance from afar with a highly painterly approach upon close inspection.

In a wide range of canvas sizes, from moderate to what can only be called “epic” (one is 8’ x 18’), Kinast examines the contemporary potential of painting within a self-defined system or doctrine. By choosing a process that could take over and eventually blot out the entire ground were he not to stop at some point, he has highlighted the central challenge for every new artists who puts brush to canvas in this age of Pluralistic practice: which rules to follow. Through an exquisite and painstaking layering, ultimately as open as it is overflowing, Kinast reveals the entire history of each painting for the viewer patient enough to examine his pieces up close. Stepping back again, however, new patterns emerge, revealing sweeping gestures built up from his lighter to darker colors.

David Kinast was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Oklahoma. He studied at Temple University Rome, and received his MFA from the Tyler School of Art in 1999. He had a solo exhibition at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles in 2007. He now lives and works in New York.

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Deaccession and Timing

Thanks to everyone who recommended topics for this summer's Tuesday's Aside posts, where I will do my damnedest to answer your questions. A few of the questions thus far fall under that category of how to break into the New York Gallery system when you don't live in New York, and while I think they could use a bit of updating, until I get around to that, I'll point you to these two posts I wrote a while back on the topic: "Foot in the Door, 101" and "One More Time, With Feeling (seriously)," the most useful information of which you'll find in the comments. Moving forward, in order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).
Tuesday's Aside: June 3, 2008

Christopher asked:
When do you think it's too soon to sell pieces on the secondary market? A number of pieces I have bought seem to have increased by a lot in terms of market value. I have never bought a piece with the intention of selling it, and certainly don't want to do anything that could potentially harm an artist's career, but collections and tastes do evolve. I've been thinking about this since it was announced that Howard Rachofsky will be selling his Koons in London for the next round of contemporary auctions. I had a chance to visit his home in Dallas a couple of years ago and say what you will about Koons - his piece 'floating' on the private lake outside the Richard Meier designed home was absolutely stunning. Rachofsky's collection and my collection are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I think $20 million to Howard is relatively the same as $20k to me so it's sparked some interesting discussions locally.
Might as well start with the most romantic viewpoint here and move onward. Purists will argue that you should keep art you buy for life. That it should be sold, if not cherished by your heirs, only after you've bought the farm. Purists are rarely realists though, so, while I admire this point of view, I mention it only to get it out of the way here.

The dilemma in your question lies in the fact that at any given time what's best for the artist and what's best for the collector can be at odds. The realist in me says that when that's the case, you are perfectly justified in acting in your best interests and that includes timing (i.e., when it's best for you to sell the work). In other words, only you can say whether it's the right time to sell a piece or not. Generally speaking, that is. There remain some "best practices" IMO to deaccession.

First and foremost, I'd highly recommend at least approaching the gallery you bought the work from first, as opposed to taking the work to auction right away. Consigning the work to the gallery you bought it from will most help avoid any potential harm to the artist's career. There are a number of reasons for this:
  • No one has a better grasp on the subtleties of the artist's market. They'll know who's looking for the work, what price is fair (they want you to get as much from the resale as makes sense for the artist and their commission [which translates into as much for you as they can within that context]), and which collection will be best able to compensate for the damage (if news of the resale does any). For example, if the new collector is known to be buying the work in depth, then it will seem more reasonable to the artist's market that the work exchanged hands (i.e., less like folks were abandoning ship).
  • If the gallery can't find a buyer, no one has to know (as opposed to a public auction).
  • Rather that potentially send a chill through your relationship with that gallery (assuming you care), you'll strengthen that relationship (assuming they are happy to take the work on consignment).
  • You'll be giving the gallery a heads-up, and they can try to get out ahead of any potential harm to the artist's career.
  • If the gallery is among those truly dedicated to its artists (I know I'm gonna get flak for this, but I don't care), they'll share part of their commission with the artist.
But there are also somewhat contradictory ideas revealed in your comment, and sorting those out might help you decide what to do. You note that "collections and tastes do evolve," which is a perfectly valid reason for rehanging one's collection, but, if taken to its natural conclusion, suggests that regret over buying something at one point can be supplanted by later regret over reselling that piece. I've done this myself. I bought a fabulous piece early on that I later resold when I was trying to raise capital to start my gallery. Each time I do an inventory of my collection now, though, it tugs at my heart a bit. I truly wish I still had it now. Also, I've gone through phases of loving, then not so much, back to loving a piece again as it continues to reveal itself to me. In other words, tastes can continue to evolve, and pieces I bought early on always retain sentimental value for me.

The other idea that you note though is "A number of pieces I have bought seem to have increased by a lot in terms of market value." This suggests that your decision is being impacted by a sense that now is the time to resell if you're going to. I understand that impulse (artist's prices do peak and interest can wane after they do), but depending on why that artist's prices are increasing, they might continue to do so for quite some time. Here again, by approaching the gallery (for advice at least), you might save yourself some regret. If the gallery jumps at the chance to re-buy or consign the work, you might be able to safely assume the prices are still on their way up.

Either way, Christopher, I can't tell you how much I appreciate that you're concerned with the impact on the artist's career in doing this. It reflects very well on you. I do get the sense from your question, though, that you're asking also whether there are any indications that an artist's career is strong enough to weather work entering the secondary market with limited potential for harm. There is a spectrum of course, with perhaps the work being widely collected by top collectors and museums being at one end (i.e., there's no fear that the work won't be snapped up) and, at the other end, obviously plenty of work unsold at their last exhibition. If the artist doesn't have a healthy waiting list, then any resale can potentially hurt their career. Not necessarily, though. You may have a significant piece, and its entering the secondary market could actually strengthen the artist's reputation in certain circles (opinions will vary on this).

Thanks for the question. And good luck with the decisions.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer Blogging Hours Tuesdays and Thursdays

As I noted in a post a while back, I have a major deadline (I'm almost ready to announce what that is) at the end of the summer that will necessitate me posting less than I generally have. Because I find it annoying when I go to a blog and find the same lead post I saw last time, I'll announce now that my goal will be to post on Tuesday and Thursday mornings until September, when, I hope, regular posting will resume.

In an effort to make the summer postings as engaging as I can, therefore, I'm going to set Tuesday's aside to address questions I'll solicit here. In other words, if there's something you'd like discuss or questions for a dealer you'd like addressed, leave them in this this thread and I'll use Tuesday postings to offer the best answers I can or open up a thread on the topic.

Please note in advance that if I don't address a question you suggest, it may be I don't have anything I think interesting or helpful to say about it (which is really my subtle way of saying I'll still reserve the right to post on the topics I feel I'll be best at blogging about, regardless of how rigorously someone may lobby for a topic I'm not going to blog about).

With that caveat, though...what's on your mind?